Thursday, 3 February 2011
Egypt: What Will The Army Do?
As the drama in Egypt unfolds, the key question is - what will the army do?
Usually in discussing Africa the answer would be simple: they'd do what the President said unless it involved fighting another army with guns, in which case they'd run a mile.
Egypt though is a bit different. They are a real army and if it hadn't been their bad luck to fight the Israel in most of their wars they'd have an excellent reputation. As Nasser said, in one of his wittier moments, the problem was that there were a quarter of a million Jews in the Israeli army and none in the Egyptian.
However their success in the early stages of the 1973 Yom Kippur war stands out as the only success in conventional warfare of a Arab army against Israel. They took the IDF (and many of their own soldiers) completely by surprise with their attack across the Suez canal, neatly removing the sand banks that Israel had erected with fire hoses. They then used their newly aquired Soviet anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to fight off the Israeli counter attacks. Israel has never revealed how many planes it lost in the war, and pundits speculate up to half their air force was shot down.
If their Syrian allies hadn't been obliterates in the Golan Heights they might be there still. Unfortunately the Egyptians had to launch an unplanned attack into the Sinai desert to rescue Syria. Defeat was inevitable when peace eventually broke out the Egyptian army was virtually surrounded and on its last legs.
In the years since then the army, although struggling with mass illiteracy in its ranks like most African armies, has become more professional. They meet the Yanks every couple of years to play war games, but hopefully haven't picked up too many bad habits from them.
So far the army seems to be playing a straight bat, dispersing the pro-Mubarak thugs and leaving the other demonstrators alone. So far, so good.
Whether or not a country with the grinding economic problems that Egypt has really needs half a million men in uniform is a good questions, but at the moment it seems that the Egyptian army is that very rare thing in Africa: an army that is more of a threat to the nations enemies than its own people.